The pitfalls of overly technical and idealised approaches

Whilst the importance of a people-centred and multi-layered approach is widely recognised in policy, in practice donor programmes have often emphasised technical approaches that focus on strengthening state security and justice institutional capacities (OECD-DAC, 2007a; Bryden, 2012). Support to non-state actors has been ad hoc or treated as an entry point for statebuilding based on normative and idealised western templates of how security and justice should be delivered (OECD-DAC, 2007a; Desai et al., 2011). As such, resources have been directed towards implementing ‘perfect’ reforms of state institutions,which have proved inappropriate in fragile and conflict-affected states (SU, 2014).

It is often difficult to evaluate the contribution that programmes make to security, justice and development outcomes. Schnabel (2012, p. 64), for example, argues that ‘activities are rarely explicitly geared towards meeting specific development objectives’ and that as a result their contributions to development objectives are assumed and their precise extent remains generally unknown. Furthermore, programmes that are primarily based on institutional assessments of state capacity and institutional capacity building have difficulties demonstrating how interventions improve the security and justice of citizens (SU, 2014).

Several donor reviews highlight the problems with approaches that are not politically nuanced and locally-rooted. In a review of its law and justice programming, AusAID (2012, p. 48) admits that a focus on institutional arrangements and capacity building has produced ‘islands of success’ without necessarily delivering change to the quality of justice services. A review of the European Commission’s support to security and justice found that the overall impact on people’s safety, security and justice has been difficult to measure because of its focus on building institutional capacity within state security and justice bodies (EC, 2011). A World Bank review of its justice assistance finds that, despite some successes in improving access to justice, the overall outcomes have been uneven due to approaches that focused on technical issues such as training and equipment, a lack of political analysis leading to unrealistic reform agendas, project designs insufficiently focused on the needs of citizens, and an absence of rigorous evaluation (WB, 2012).

Academic debates suggest that differences between policy and practice contribute to the ineffectiveness of security and justice programming and the inability to articulate the contribution to development. In a review of academic debate on the future of security and justice programming, Sedra (2011) concludes that there is widespread agreement amongst practitioners and academics on the need for following the principles espoused in policy documents such as OECD-DAC’s Handbook for Security Sector Reform.

There is, however, evidence to suggest that donors accept that changes are required in their approaches to programming. The World Bank and European Commission both recognise the need to improve the design, monitoring and evaluation of programmes, and to adopt flexible and strategic approaches that respond to the needs of the poor and that reflect local realities (WB, 2012; EC, 2011).

  • AusAID. (2012). Building on Local Strengths: Evaluation of Australian Law and Justice Assistance. Canberra: Australian Agency for International Development.
    See document online
  • Bryden, A. (2012). Pushing Pieces Around the Chessboard or Changing the Game? DDR, SSR and the Security-Development Nexus. In A. Schnabel & V. Farr (Eds.), Back to the Roots: Security Sector Reform and Development. DCAF Yearbook 2011. Geneva: Lit Verlag.
    See document online
  • Desai, D., Isser, D., & Woolcock, M. (2011). Rethinking Justice Reform in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States: The Capacity of Development Agencies and Lessons from Liberia and Afghanistan. In H. Cissé, D.D. Bradlow, & B. Kingsbury (Eds.), The World Bank Legal Review Volume 3: International Financial Institutions and Global Legal Governance. Washington D.C.: The World Bank.
    See document online
  • EC. (2011). Thematic Evaluation of the European Commission Support to Justice and Security Sector Reform. Brussels: European Commission.
    See document online
  • OECD-DAC. (2007a). Enhancing the Delivery of Justice and Security. Paris: OECD.
    See document online
  • Sedra, M. (2011). Introduction: The Future of Security Sector Reform. In M. Sedra (Ed.), The Future of Security Sector Reform. Ontario: The Centre for International Governance Innovation.
    See document online
  • Schnabel, A. (2012). The Security-Development Discourse and the Role of SSR as a Development Instrument. In A. Schnabel & V. Farr (Eds.), Back to the Roots: Security Sector Reform and Development. DCAF Yearbook 2011. Geneva: Lit Verlag.
    See document online
  • SU. (2014). Policing the context: Principles and guidance to inform international policing assistance. London: Stabilisation Unit. See document online.
  • WB. (2012). New Directions in Justice Reform. Washington D.C.: The World Bank.
    See document online